Hello, am I speaking to a robot? MENA turns to automation for customer service

Hello, am I speaking to a robot? MENA turns to automation for customer service
Automating customer experience allows companies to consistently communicate with their clients. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 23 August 2021

Hello, am I speaking to a robot? MENA turns to automation for customer service

Hello, am I speaking to a robot? MENA turns to automation for customer service
  • Financial services firms, retailers, and government institutions are driving the demand for customer services automation

DUBAI: Demand for automation services in customer service is growing in the Middle East, as the technology presents big opportunities in driving “tremendous amounts of return on investment,” a key technology player in the region told Arab News.

“The Middle East has always been very important. Our key customers in the region include Carrefour, and a few other retail chains as well,” Raghu Ravinutala, chief executive officer and founder of Yellow.ai, said.

Financial services firms, retailers, and government institutions are driving the demand for customer services automation, he said.

The India-based company provides enterprises with technology that claims to improve customer experience through messaging and voice channels using automation. 

“Imagine an airline company – when a customer comes in and asks for rescheduling a flight, instead of a human handling that conversation, it is an artificial intelligence (AI) agent that handles the call and goes ahead enabling the transaction,” Ravinutala explained. 'Chatbots' is a term used to describe this technology.

He said the regional demand is due to companies increasingly realizing the benefits of the technology in driving commerce and marketing, as well as supporting actual sales.

Automating customer experience allows companies to consistently communicate with their clients, Ravinatula said, and the technology presents a cheaper alternative to traditional call centers.

WhastApp messaging is particularly the product of choice for Yellow.ai’s clientele in the region, and the COVID-19 pandemic that shut physical stores down, drove up the adoption of this service.

“There is a natural adoption for messaging, and companies are essentially trying to provide what their customers are asking for,” the CEO said.

This is compared to the region’s slower adoption rate in the more advanced forms of automation in the customer service industry, such as voice deployments – where customers speak to a “robot," as they are taken through an automated menu of options to which they respond with their voice.

“Messaging is lightweight in terms of implementation, and the ROI is much higher in a sense that you have a much lower cost of acquiring the services,” Ravinatula said.

The statements come as the company accelerates its Middle East growth strategy, which includes increasing the size of its team in the region and investing in the application of the Arabic language in its products.

“We added Arabic as a language to our voice automation in a significant way. There is a lot of investment going on in making Arabic code language in terms of voice automation,” Ravinatula said.

Although language could be a tricky issue for customer service in the region where many nationalities reside, the Yellow.ai chief said it’s a “largely solvable problem.”

“We have seen voice deployments in multiple languages, but it’s just about the investment and amount of effort that companies need to make,” he said.

The startup, which has plans to move its headquarters from India to the US, recently closed a $78.15 million Series C funding round led by WestBridge Capital, and a part of the capital injection will be spent on its Middle East growth strategy.

With the rate of how technology is changing, and the increased investments in companies that develop them, Ravinatula said the customer service industry will soon see advanced AI applications and deployments.

“It will become more and more human-like in the interaction,” he said.

He said robots could soon be able to persuade and negotiate with people.

“The higher level of cognitive tasks that human beings are doing? I think they will have the capability to do that… The progression is towards making software interact with humans, and that’s the direction for the next 5 to 10 years.”


Oil demand expected to reach pre-pandemic levels despite omicron fears: Aramco CEO

Oil demand expected to reach pre-pandemic levels despite omicron fears: Aramco CEO
Updated 20 sec ago

Oil demand expected to reach pre-pandemic levels despite omicron fears: Aramco CEO

Oil demand expected to reach pre-pandemic levels despite omicron fears: Aramco CEO

Dhahran: Aramco’s CEO is optimistic about oil demand growth next year despite fears over the new COVID-19 variant omicron. 

Oil demand will be over 100 million barrels per day in 2022, reaching pre-COVID19 levels, Amin Nasser told Arab News during a media briefing at the company's headquarter today.

On COVID-19’s new strain, he said that “the markets overreacted,” adding that the impact of omicron on demand cannot be measured without a full medical assessment.  

Nasser’s remarks came during a ceremony in Dhahran to kickoff development of the unconventional gas field Jafurah. 


Economic sentiment in the EU drops slightly; inflation on the rise in Germany and Spain: Economic wrap

Economic sentiment in the EU drops slightly; inflation on the rise in Germany and Spain: Economic wrap
Updated 28 min 51 sec ago

Economic sentiment in the EU drops slightly; inflation on the rise in Germany and Spain: Economic wrap

Economic sentiment in the EU drops slightly; inflation on the rise in Germany and Spain: Economic wrap

The EU’s Economic Sentiment Indicator slipped marginally by 1.1 points to reach 116.5 in November, the European Commission said.

The drop was attributed to a noticeable fall in consumer confidence, although among other sectors such as industry and services it remained the same. At the same time, confidence in the retail trade and construction sectors improved.

Germany, the Netherlands and Spain were among the countries that experienced a downward trend in their economic sentiment, with the latter undergoing the largest decline.

On the other hand, France had the biggest improvement in economic sentiment during the month. Italy and Poland were another two countries that had more favorable sentiment.

Inflation in Western Europe

Annual inflation rate in Spain reached 5.6 percent in November, according to preliminary estimates in a press release issued by Spain's National Statistics Institute. 

The inflation rate predicted for November will be the highest since September 1992. The increase was mainly driven by higher food prices.

In addition, the monthly inflation rate is expected to reach 0.4 percent in November.  

Meanwhile, Germany’s consumer prices are expected to rise in November by 5.2 percent from a year ago, data from Germany’s Federal Statistics Office showed. This is higher than October's 4.5 percent.

Energy costs surged by 22.1 percent while food prices went up by 4.5 percent, according to preliminary estimates.

The monthly inflation rate is expected to be a negative 0.2 percent in November.

Mexico’s unemployment

The Mexican jobless rate decelerated to 3.9 percent in October from 4.2 percent in the prior month, according to the country’s official statistics agency, INEGI.

The number of unemployed persons eased to 2.3 million, declining by 288,000 from a year earlier, the INEGI report showed.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the jobless rate remained at 3.9 percent.


Egypt and Jordan agree to more than double the electric capacity between them

Egypt and Jordan agree to more than double the electric capacity between them
Updated 49 min 49 sec ago

Egypt and Jordan agree to more than double the electric capacity between them

Egypt and Jordan agree to more than double the electric capacity between them

Egypt and Jordan have agreed to strengthen the electrical interconnection between them in a plan that could see them exchange energy with the rest of the region.

The two governments have settled on a deal that will see the current capacity of 500 megawatts increased to up to 2000 MW, with Jordanian Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Saleh Al-Kharabsheh saying it “benefits both sides.”

“Our relationship with Egypt is distinguished, as the electrical connection between Jordan and Egypt began in 1999, and there is an exchange of electrical energy with capacities of up to 500 megawatts, and the new agreement may raise this capacity to 1,000 or 2,000 megawatts in the future,” Al-Kharabsheh said, at a press conference in the Jordanian capital of Amman.

“It is possible that Jordan and Egypt will eventually be able to exchange electrical energy between the countries of the region and link it to each other and with other countries such those in Europe or through Egypt to the African continent, which helps encourage and strengthen cooperation between the two countries,” he continued.

Speaking alongside Al-Kharabsheh, the Egyptian Minister of Electricity and Renewable Energy Mohamed Shaker said his country has managed to raise its electrical capacity enough to be able to export.

He added that Egypt plans to increase the percentage of renewable energy from its electrical capacity to 42 percent in 2035.

Shaker also explained that Cairo is studying a new link line with Europe through Greece and Cyprus, explaining that strengthening the link with Jordan opens the way for the exchange of capabilities.

 


16 more fintech firms enter Saudi market in Q3 of 2021

16 more fintech firms enter Saudi market in Q3 of 2021
Updated 29 November 2021

16 more fintech firms enter Saudi market in Q3 of 2021

16 more fintech firms enter Saudi market in Q3 of 2021

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia issued licenses to 16 fintech companies in the third quarter of 2021, Sabq quoted Saudi Central Bank governor as saying at an event on Monday.

Fahad Almubarak said 13 of those companies work in the field of payments and electronic wallets, and three firms are engaged in insurance and finance sector.

Saudi Arabia witnessed a 37 percent rise in the number of fintech firms entering the market and also recorded an increase in venture capital investments that exceeded SR680 million ($181 million).

Capital Market Authority chairman Mohammed Elkuwaiz said fintech companies develop technical ideas that challenge the current situation, which has an added value because it offers a product that did not exist before, Sabq paper reported.

Fintech in Saudi Arabia has competitive advantages over other countries, and 90 percent of transactions in the Saudi financial market are automated and have been conducted electronically for more than 10 years, Argaam reported.


Chinese developers to face $1.3bn of bond payments in December

Chinese developers to face $1.3bn of bond payments in December
Updated 29 November 2021

Chinese developers to face $1.3bn of bond payments in December

Chinese developers to face $1.3bn of bond payments in December

RIYADH: China’s developers face around $1.3 billion of bond payments in December, following a month of investors’ sentiment stabilising toward the property sector.

In November, the total bond payments was $2 billion, with no defaults reported, according to Bloomberg. 

Investors' scrutiny regarding principal and interest payments lingers as the cash crisis hits the real estate industry. 

China’s Evergrande group unit and Kaisa group’s grace periods are ending by mid-December on coupons of a total of $171 million.